A ewe gathers her three lambs to her, they form a triangle.

Fank ewe


Thank you to George Logan who has added to the interest in the Stone Kiss sending in some fascinating research about the sheep shelter. Gunnie never called it a stone kiss, the titling of Gunnie Moberg’s aerial photograph in the 1979 book Stone Built is ‘A bucht, Mainland’. She has ‘bucht’ in quotes.

In this black and white aerial photograph, a huge stone X sits like a kiss at the end of a love letter on the rough moorland.

extract from Chambers Scots Dictionary sent in by Sally Mackintosh

George believes the structure in Gunnie’s photograph to be a stell not a bucht, highlighting this piece of research from the Biggar Archaeology Group ‘Shielings and Buchts in Southern Scotland’ by Tom Ward. Quote below:

‘Sheep stells or sheep banks of the Border country came in with the Border shepherds and drystone dykes around 1760. Sheep stells are dry stone circular walled buildings built on sheltered parts of the hills where flocks of sheep can be gathered for shelter during stormy weather. The stell walls are around 5 foot high and vary in diameter according to the flock size. Not all stells were built circular, some are square. Most stells in the north are circular.

In Ireland some old stone stells were built like a cross and no matter which direction the wind, rain or snow was blowing, cattle or sheep could go into one corner of the cross and find shelter. In the south of England shepherds used to carry gait hurdles around on the backs, the hurdles were made of woven willow and were very light to carry, they could easily be made up into a pen, the stakes were also light. Sheep could be gathered near lambing time or to shelter from the wind and rain. The hurdles were sometimes covered with straw or canvas.’

George adds ‘The little internal partition in your Orkney example is possibly for storing hay or possibly lambing (it wouldn’t hold many though) or a sick sheep. Regardless your example seems rather unique. There is quite a bit of confusion with folds, faulds, fanks, enclosures, etc. probably through the different dialects and the shepherds travelling with the increase in sheep farming.’

John Mowatt, who attended a U3A talk on Gunnie’s work where this photograph was discussed,  pointed out that bukt means bay or cove in Norwegian and the word is used in relation to the sea in Caithness. These are bays in a way but inland.

Turning to Alexander Fenton is always a worthwhile thing to do and in Northern Isles: Orkney & Shetland the word bucht or bught appears but in relation to plantiecrues…cabbages not sheep. The planticrues afforded the islanders some shelter for their kail seed to grown before being transplanted into kailyards to mature.


A page from Fenton's book The North Isles Orkney & Shetland


A ball topped stone tower stands in the centre right of this image, around the foot of the tower stone walls spread out like roots. Sea and shore encircle this old lighthouse.

Planticrues and punds feature in Gunnie’s aerial photographs of North Ronaldsay.The punds seen above are used for working with the communal shore fed sheep of North Ronaldsay. If you haven’t been punding you should.

a view of Villaghe bay, Hirsta, St Kilda, showing the stone walls and the dip of the valley leading to the sea and the shelter of stacs

stone enclosures in St Kilda photographed by Gunnie in 1982


Stell, or staill, is listed in the Consise Scots Dictionary as ‘an open, usually circular, enclosure of dry-stane walling, used as shelter for sheep on a hillside’. A cursory look through Marwick, Firth, Flaws and Lamb revealed no buchts or stells which made me wonder if there is an Orkney word for such structures. And is there a name for the contemporary practice of using old cars in fields for sheep shelter?

It would be good to hear from farmers, agricultural historians and archaeologists about any further thoughts on this. Thank you again to George.

Must send this to WPL Thomson…..

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